Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Ceisteanna - Questions
Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements
1. To ask the Taoiseach the extent to which he has had discussions with other European and NATO leaders in regard to EU Security and Defence issues; and if defence and security issues were discussed at a recent dinner in Madrid. [35894/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
I attended a meeting over dinner in Madrid on Wednesday, 29 June 2022, hosted by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which brought together leaders of EU member states and those of NATO member countries. While the event took place alongside a NATO summit, it was a separate event and not a part of the summit. The discussion covered current political and security challenges in Europe, not least the need for a strong common response to Russia's illegal and immoral war against Ukraine. There was remarkable consensus that the issues at stake include not only Ukraine's right to freedom and sovereignty, but also our shared democratic values and the vitally important rules-based international order on which they depend.
Ahead of the meeting, I had the opportunity to meet bilaterally with the Austrian Chancellor, Karl Nehammer. Our discussions covered a range of issues including how we, as fellow neutral EU member states, can best contribute to efforts to support Ukraine and to ensure Russia's aggression does not prevail. At the event itself, I spoke to many fellow leaders, including Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdöttir, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. I also met with President Joe Biden; the President of the European Council, Charles Michel; and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
In my contribution, I made the important point that while Ireland is militarily neutral, we are not, and have never been, politically neutral and we have made a significant contribution to the EU's resolute response to the war. I pointed to our unwavering commitment to international peace and security, including through our role on the United Nations Security Council. I also noted the ongoing review of Ireland's security and defence arrangements to ensure we are ready to meet new threats and challenges.
I thank the Taoiseach for that comprehensive answer. Has any consideration been given to the threat to neutral countries posed by aggressive nations, having regard to the experience of the Second World War and that more recently of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which that country seems determined to continue until it has suppressed Ukraine?
I believe the Taoiseach was right to attend the EuroAtlantic dinner. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has major implications for Ireland and the world, especially concerning energy, food and migration. It is important at this time that Ireland shows solidarity with like-minded democracies and advocates a rules-based international order. In this context, Ireland should continue to commit to the evolving Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, of the EU. As the Taoiseach is aware, we have been an active participant in civilian and military CSDP missions and operations, and I take it we are open to the idea of the proposed mission to provide military training to Ukrainian personnel. It is clear that participation in CSDP does not alter our defence policy of military neutrality. For a start, this would be incompatible with our commitment to the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Therefore, has the Taoiseach further considered his suggestion that a citizens' assembly should examine the whole issue of non-alignment at this time?
The Taoiseach is on record as saying he wishes to have an informed debate about military issues and this country in future. The NATO summit in Madrid committed not just to an arms race but to a nuclear arms race. The strategic compass declares full support for the "forward deployment of" US nuclear weapons on European soil. At a time when millions of ordinary Europeans face the threat of being frozen in their homes this winter or struggling to put food on the table, it is outrageous that NATO is committing to spend billions on a new nuclear arms race. The Taoiseach attended the EuroAtlantic summit dinner that took place immediately after the NATO summit. It was held in the same city and had a huge overlap in participation. Therefore, will the Taoiseach join with me in opposing what so many of his EuroAtlantic summit partners signed up to, namely, a fresh "forward deployment" of US nuclear weapons on European soil?
The Government appears to be making a habit of attending NATO meetings and meetings of NATO allies. I do not believe it is an accident at all, but part of a conscious drive to integrate this country with a process of militarisation led by US imperialism.
I asked last week whether the State was represented at the fifth so-called Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, which happened in Germany a couple of weeks ago. When I asked about it last week, the Taoiseach told me that he was "not aware of the specific meeting in question," and that he "does not believe ... [I am] correct ... [in my] analysis that ... [they] are using the war in Ukraine to drive the militarisation of the world or NATO." I want to ask again as this is important. Was the Irish Government represented at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting which took place at the Ramstein US air base, which is also NATO headquarters in Germany, on 8 September?
There are images on the NATO website of the Irish delegate present at a previous Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting. I reiterate that the US Secretary of Defense has described this as "our NATO alliance." It was also mentioned that there were nearly 50 countries present for this fifth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. I am opposed to this integration into a NATO alliance but this House, at the very least, has the right to know whether the Government is participating in this military alliance. We need to have clear answers about our participation and should really have a debate about it.
Deputy Durkan was the first to raise this matter. It was interesting that after the immoral invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which was an unprovoked and savage attack on the people of Ukraine with missiles hitting civilian targets and killing innocent people, including children, Finland and Sweden, which had a different position prior to this war, decided to join NATO. It was their decision. They are closer to Russia than we are and felt vulnerable. Around that time, I visited Finland. I had my visit organised before their decision. Both the Prime Minister and the President of Finland were in a position to articulate to me the entire sea change that this invasion caused, in terms of the national psyche of Finland in the first instance. They said that everything they were told as children in terms of fearing a potential invasion of Russia had transpired in terms of the invasion of Ukraine, so much so that public opinion had changed dramatically in favour of joining the military alliance that is NATO. The same happened in Sweden. That is the impact so far in terms of how those countries feel threatened and vulnerable.
The same applies, by the way, to the European Continent in terms of what could happen in the future and the degree to which the EU on its own, or at least certain countries within the EU, would be in a position to repel significantly attacks of this kind. Hence, the countries on the east see this as an existential threat because of their history. Countries like Estonia are clear that this is existential to them. When I speak to the Prime Minister of Estonia, she points out that the only time of freedom her parents got was that time between the First World War and the Second World War. She speaks about Stalin, who was brutal in terms of what he did to Estonia, Poland and other countries, and Hitler. These people's life experiences are far different from ours. Sometimes we should be less arrogant in the House in proclaiming what they should and should not do. If we had lived through what their parents and grandparents lived through, we would have a different perspective in terms of the potential of Russia to violate their territorial integrity and their nationhood, as has happened in Ukraine. I hope I have answered Deputy Durkan's questions in that respect.
I agree with Deputy Haughey that the broader aspects of this war bring in energy and migration. It is a terrible tragedy that migration has become a weapon of war of cynical countries, such as Russia and Belarus. The latter encouraged people to fly in from the Middle East, and indeed flew some of them in, and then brought them to the borders and left them in over the borders pretending to them that it was Germany. That is what is going on. I have no doubt that Putin knew what he was doing by bombing entire cities so that the people would flee Ukraine into Europe. We have had the biggest humanitarian disaster since the Second World War in terms of up to 7 million more displaced, with the vast majority having to flee into Europe. On the food issue, there has been an improvement made in terms of the opening up of the Black Sea but there are real concerns, between a combination of climate change and the war, in terms of future hunger in the world.
With the evolution of the Common Security and Defence Policy, it is the best place for Ireland to be in right now. That is my view. It has evolved. We have contributed to peace missions in that context and to interoperability training missions, etc., which make sense, particularly when we are in serving with the UN in Lebanon. We work with Polish troops and work with other countries which are members of the EU, and it makes sense that the same equipment is used and that there is interoperability. That is how our policies have evolved. We are not a member of NATO. That is clear to NATO. It is clear to us. We are not politically neutral but we are militarily neutral.
On the possibility of a citizens' assembly, hopefully the existing ones will come to a conclusion shortly. I would like to think that sometime next year, we could commence a citizens' assembly in relation to the broader issue of neutrality and defence, etc., because we have issues around cybersecurity and broader issues in terms of our vulnerability at sea. In terms of all of the data that goes under our seabeds, we must be mindful of the economic presence in Ireland. We also must be mindful of how vulnerable are we in terms of radar. That is why the Commission on the Defence Forces has articulated the need for a significant increase in defence spending to protect ourselves as a country. We would have the lowest level of military expenditure across Europe and I smile at times when the Deputies opposite talk about militarisation. The one thing Ireland has not done in the past 20 years, 30 years or 40 years is to militarise.
That is not what we are trying to do now. I would point out that the defence commission has made recommendations. The Government has accepted those recommendations, not in their entirety but in terms of the middle tier of ambition which by any yardstick is not militarisation, but getting the bare essentials in place that we can protect vital assets, protect our seas and protect ourselves from a cybersecurity perspective, and also be conscious that we do things at a more reasonable level than we have been doing. Frankly, that would be our view on that.
I do not agree with Deputy Barry's view of NATO. NATO is not interested in an arms race. It is interested in defence. It is a defence alliance. It is not an attack alliance.
What is extremely insightful in the contributions that I have heard today is that it is all about NATO. NATO did not start this war on Ukraine. The reason for the EuroAtlantic EU-NATO dinner and engagement was because of the war on Ukraine. NATO did not start that war. Most of the leaders of NATO who I know did everything they possibly could to stop the war from ever starting. They spoke to President Putin. They asked him not to commence the war. They invited him to talks around the security architecture of Europe if he felt there were vulnerabilities for Russia. It is a needless war that was caused by Russia. It is interesting to note, in particular, from the far left, that right throughout this war the protests are being organised around NATO. There are no protests around Russia.
It is all about NATO. It is all about NATO's aggression, allegedly, and NATO's militarisation when actually it is Russian aggression that has created this world crisis that we are in. No one wants to be in this. The members of NATO want their economies to work.
We favour nuclear non-proliferation and we work at the United Nations to try to achieve that. We have been one of the most consistent member states of the UN to advocate for nuclear non-proliferation and are perceived as such.